I loved this! It hit all my K.J. Charles sweet spots: historically accurate time period indulgence; unique main characters with great chemistry; a plot that not only holds my attention, but actually makes me look forward to it; that thing she does all the time but so casually, where she takes a time period and shows that it wasn’t just full of straight white people; and of course, all that character culmination results in good sex scenes that are not only sexy, but also illuminate character (sex for sex’s sake does not really interest me anymore in fiction for the most part). Oh, and great dialogue. Think of England is probably one of my favorites of hers, right up there with Band Sinister, and A Seditious Affair.
And of course, along with all the stuff she always does well, she always introduces something new for each of her books. With this one, she mixes romance with Edwardian pulp, which I will admit I’m not really familiar with. She name drops some well known authors of the time period, and I’d never heard of any of them, but if they’re anything like this book, they’re full of blackmail, scandal, and well dressed gentlemen hiding filthiness under a respectable veneer. Actually, I’m just going to quote Charles’s own review from Goodreads because it’ll give you a good idea of her motives here:
“I love Golden Age pre-WWI Britain, with well-dressed gentlemen and dastardly foreigners, stiff upper lips and country-house parties, derring-do and plots and amateur spies. John Buchan, Edgar Wallace, E Phillips Oppenheim, and the other wonderful writers of a time when to be a straight white English gentleman was to be at the pinnacle of human civilisation.
Obviously, if you weren’t white, or upper class, or Christian, or male, or straight, it wasn’t quite so much fun. The fiction of the time is shocking to modern readers with its casual prejudices – in particular the anti-Semitism with which the era is so foully infected. But there’s also the almost automatic villainy of queer people and sexually aware women; the restrictive class structure; the assumed inferiority of non-white and non-British.
I love the balls-to-the-wall plotting and milieu of Edwardian pulp, but the prejudices make it a guilty pleasure. So I wrote my own Edwardian pulp, my way.”
The best part of the book though is the relationship between our two leads, Archie Curtis (a veteran of the Boer War, who was maimed in an arms training exercise, along with his entire regiment, many of whom were killed), and Daniel da Silva (a poet, who is obviously not straight, and is also a Portuguese Jew), who are both attending a country house party. Archie and Daniel do not like each other upon first meeting. Archie is turned off by what he sees as Daniel’s put-upon mannerisms designed to make other people feel as if they are inferior to him (he knew people like that in school), and Daniel assumes that Archie is just like every other red-blooded British male, prejudiced and unthinking in the treatment of anyone who is different. And they are both there to uncover secrets about their host, Armstrong. When they realize they have a common goal, they team up, and no more spoilers from there because that’s half the fun, but what happens next is full of banter and sexiness and adventure. There was this one scene that about knocked me over. I had to come to Goodreads and make a status update to express myself, but just ended up using sexually suggestive emojis instead. They are both lovely, and I love them separately, and together. I basically want to re-read this right away, but I will refrain.
Highly recommend this one!